Land is Life: The struggle of the Quechua people to gain their land rights | Oxfam | Indigenous Peoples

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Since the early 1970s the government of Peru has given multinational oil companies permission to exploit significant areas of the Amazon – all of which are ancestral territories of indigenous peoples. The Quechua people of Nuevo Andoas have been particularly affected, suffering the health and environmental consequences of a poorly regulated extractives industry. This paper highlights the injustice faced by the Quechua and the wider region. It echoes their call for the government to grant them full title to their territories
  BRIEFING NOTE 26 SEPTEMBER 2016 Teddy Guerra, the leader of the Quechua community of Nuevo Andoas, shows the impact of oil contamination on the ancestral lands of his people. Photo: Julie Barnes/Oxfam LAND IS LIFE The struggle of the Quechua people to gain their land rights ‘This land was inherited from our fathers. Now it is our time, and soon it will be the next generation’s time. But we live with the knowledge that the government might again license our territory out to oil companies at any time. For us, it’s important to be given formal land titles, not so that we can feel like owners, but to protect our territory.’  –Teddy Guerra Magin, indigenous leader and farmer, Nuevo Andoas    1 SUMMARY: THE QUECHUA PEOPLE’S STRUGGLE TO DEFEND THEIR TERRITORY In the absence of a title to their territories, the future of the indigenous people of Nuevo Andoas community and the wider Loreto region of northern Peru is under threat. Since the early 1970s, when the government gave multinational companies permission to exploit the region’s oil reserves, indigenous people have suffered the health and environmental consequences of a poorly regulated extractives industry. Repeated contamination of their land and rivers has caused illness and deaths, particularly among children. People’s livelihoods, which are based on cultivation and hunting and fishing, have also been seriously affected. The land on which the oil companies have been operating – known by the government and companies as ‘Block 192’ – covers the upper part of the basin of the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers, which are all ancestral territories of indigenous populations. The Quechua people of Nuevo Andoas, a community of approximately 2,000 people who reside on the north side of the Pastaza river, are particularly affected; the community’s strategic location means much of the oil-drilling infrastructure is located here. Following indigenous people’s long campaign against the contamination of their land and waters, the government recently acknowledged the health and environmental crisis that had resulted from years of resource extraction without appropriate safety standards. However, without being granted formal title to the land which is rightfully theirs, the future of these indigenous people remains uncertain and their territories vulnerable to further exploitation without any need to compensate indigenous communities for use of their land or degradation that results. The Quechua people are the srcinal inhabitants of this land and their rights as indigenous peoples have been constitutionally recognised in Peru since 1920. Yet caught in a complex web of regulations which favour the oil companies over the rights of the indigenous population, they have still not succeeded in getting the title they need and justly demand. This paper highlights the injustice faced by the Quechua people of Nuevo Andoas and the wider region. It echoes their call on the government to grant them full title to their territories; fulfil their rights to health, education and development that respects their identity; and to provide reparation for the damage to their health and environment caused by the oil industry.  The paper is based on research commissioned by Oxfam in Peru, including field work and stakeholder interviews, available in an unpublished report Industrias Extractivas y Titulación Colectiva, El caso de Nuevo Andoas en el Alto Pastaza.   2  2 CONTEXT: 40 YEARS OF EXPLOITATION    At the beginning of the 1970s, in the Loreto region of the Northeast Peruvian  Amazon, the foundations were laid for oil extraction that would eventually be identified as the most profitable in Peru’s history. In a country with a tradition of mineral extraction, oil exploitation was seen as a key opportunity for national development. The first explorers and workers who arrived in Loreto saw a dense and inhospitable forest that had to be conquered in pursuit of wealth. While they noted some settlements of indigenous peoples in the forest, this was considered to be of little concern to the authorities in Lima. The oil extraction activities expanded and much of the region covering the northern Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre river basins – home to the indigenous Quechua, Achuar and Kichwa peoples – was eventually designated as ‘Block 1AB’ (today it is called Block 192). The extent of oil extraction in the area led to a dramatic social and economic transformation in Loreto. Initially up to 15,000 rural labourers moved to Iquitos, the region’s main city. While for the government and companies who stood to gain, oil was valued as a resource capable of modernizing Loreto and generating wealth, the new Block 1AB would also have a profound impact on the lives of the indigenous communities who had lived on and protected this land for generations. In this isolated border region – where the presence of the State was and is almost non-existent – their needs and views were at odds with those of the oil companies granted permission to operate in the Block, including Occidental Petroleum Company and Pluspetrol Norte. These companies operated within regulatory frameworks that were very favourable for promoting business, but weak in terms of protecting the rights of indigenous people and the environment. For almost 40 years, contaminated waste water was dumped into the rivers and thousands of barrels of crude oil were spilt. Even though regulatory reform over the last decade has helped to curb such practices, the effects of the past remain and must be remediated. To date, there have been hundreds of complaints about serious harm to people’s health and the degradation of their livelihoods in fishing, hunting and cultivation. Following a four-year campaign by PUINAMUDT, 1  an organization of indigenous federations of the region, between 2013 and 2015 the government declared health and environmental emergencies, at last acknowledging the damaging impact of the oil operations. While this development was welcome, the critical problem facing indigenous peoples remains: they do not have the collective title that would give them legal certainty and control of their ancestral territories, and with it the ability to better protect their land, health and livelihoods from future exploitation. ‘It doesn’t matter to the government. They have no desire to give us security living here.’ Teddy Guerra Magin, indigenous leader, Nuevo  Andoas community 3  3 PROBLEMS AND OBSTACLES: THE CONTINUING THREAT TO ANCESTRAL LANDS Petronila Sandi has spent her entire life in Nu e vo Andoas. She advocates for the land rights of her people. Photo: Percy Ramirez/Oxfam The Quechua communities have territorial rights pre-existing any other granted by the Peruvian State, as they are an ‘srcinal people’. This has been constitutionally recognized in Peru since 1920 and further strengthened by Peru’s ratification of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 in 1994; the Quechua are also protected by the 1978 law of native communities. Yet despite being covered by these national and international norms, communities in the oil region have not been able to obtain collective title to their territories. Without a title, their lands continue to be under threat of appropriation and exploitation, and to suffer from the legacy of concessions to oil companies since the 1970s. In 2006, the Ministry of Energy and Mines granted the company Pluspetrol Norte S.A. (operator of the Block at that time) ‘free easements’, i.e. free use and control of the territories occupied by camps, roads, airport and oil wells, until the end of their contract in 2015. The government justified its decision by accepting a request from Pluspetrol indicating that these ‘properties’ didn’t possess any ‘useful purpose’ other than the company’s own economic activity. The existence of indigenous peoples in the region, whose ancestors had lived there for centuries, was no secret. The government’s agreement to the company’s request therefore amounted to a clear abuse of the collective ownership of the land by the communities. Even more worryingly, when Pluspetrol’s contract and the agreement expired in 2015 – offering the opportunity to free up the Pastaza region and return control of the territory to its rightful owners – the Regional Government of Loreto insisted on excluding from communal title the easement areas that had been freely conceded to the oil companies, arguing that these areas appear in the public registries as ‘property of the state’. ‘Up to now we’ve been in big battles, demanding they grant titles quickly. We can’t stay like this; our children can’t live like this. Look at how we live. We’re not poor, it’s the [oil] company that put us in this situation, ruining the environment.’ Petronila, indigenous community member 4
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